PART ONE of series

Innovation, as we all know and have witnessed in one way or another, always brings about a larger social change. Just as the industrial revolution and the invention of the railroad have allowed companies to consolidate their counting houses into what eventually would become known as “the office”, the invention of the internet has spurred the decentralization of the same office and has promised to usher in the age of…. well… Freedom!

Technology is crucial to this shift. A solid infrastructure, reliable hardware and ongoing support from an I.T. team are a must in order to implement a “work anywhere” program.

Incentivizing the shift, of course, is the relentless rise of real estate prices. However, the strongest, most powerful force is neither technological nor economical. It is, in fact, cultural. In his groundbreaking 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida predicted the surge of talent based  economy and its pivot towards a different working experience.

However, 17 years later and fully immersed in our new reality of a 21st century marketplace we still struggle to find the middle ground between rigidity and chaos. So let’s explore the changing workplace. For now – not as a cultural concept, but as a physical space. The traditional office layout is based on the established hierarchy. CEO and VPs get the corner offices, directors – window offices, managers – interior offices and the rest – well… what’s left. Boardroom and meeting rooms are in a “conference wing”, each designed for 8 people or more. Issues? You bet. First of all – good luck booking a meeting room in a space like this. “How can this be?” – the management asks. “We have a 24 person boardroom and 3 meeting rooms holding 8-12 people.” True – but most likely each of these rooms has no more than 4 people in it for 9 out of 10 meetings. So only 12-24 people are using the meeting facilities at any given time (as opposed to, still not optimal, designed number of 54). Add to this a lack of natural light for the majority of the employees, isolation from your team and you’ve got a pretty dysfunctional space.

So let’s tear down some of the private offices (or most of them), add a few smaller meeting rooms, install long sparking white harvest tables and give everyone 60×30 inches of desk space to call their own. How many people are happy in this new near-egalitarian office layout? Surprisingly few. Complaints about lack of visual privacy, screen privacy, acoustic privacy and overall noise levels are surpassed only by the general number-one office complaint: “The printer….. is out of paper”. How can this be? Simple. We haven’t addressed the underlying problem of the office environment. It’s not  the isolation, or lack of privacy, or not enough light, or too much light. It’s the very simple fact that different people work differently. And thus prefer… no, no… REQUIRE… a different approach to space planning.

Think of a family home – the most personal space we occupy and yet the most communal. It is, largely, planned around activities rather than individuals. A space for cooking, a space for eating, a space for family entertainment, perhaps one for formal gatherings, sleeping quarters and maybe a den or a library. Now let’s translate that concept to a work space. Regardless of the field we’re in – we all need spaces to focus, to collaborate and to engage socially. That’s it. If we provide enough choices in each of these realms, everyone will find what is comfortable for them. The workforce is ready for this shift. I.T. is ready for this shift. Interior designers and furniture manufacturers are ready for this shift. This shift is happening.

The only thing left to do is bring the executives onboard. Think – square footage… For each 2 employees you allow the freedom to work from a coworking space a few days a week, you free up 100 sq ft that can be put to better use. Give them the communal spaces they need and they will want to come to the office, without feeling obligated to do so. Re-plan the office, buy everyone a laptop and chip in for a coworking space. Treat your employees like adults and they will outperform your expectations.

Freedom is the future.

By Olga Rozin Proger, The Palette Project Inc.

 

About the author: Olga Rozin Proger, is the Principal and the Lead Interior Designer at The Palette Project. The Palette Project aspires not only to aesthetic principals of designing interiors, but to a greater degree of function, feasibility, environmental consciousness and social responsibility. Space matters. We strive, above all else, to dramatically enhance the experience of your surroundings.

She has been a member of The Village Hive coworking space since April 2018 and started our first book club in March.